Chronic illness isn’t as constant as you might imagine. There are ebbs and flows, ups and downs.
It’s so easy and tempting to get your hopes up on the good days, desperately hoping that this is the end of the pain, especially when you have a run of good days.
Only to have them tragically dashed when a bad one arrives.
This depressing cycle repeats itself, not just for the one with the chronic condition, but also carers and loved ones.
I can only speak as one who has several long term illnesses, 25 years or more for some of the conditions. I’ve often felt my body is at war, never wanting me to be comfortable or happy. A few times, symptoms have receded and given me hope that I could return to a ‘normal’ life, but alas not.
If you can’t stop it, what can help lessen the impact?
What can make the good times even better?
Focus on the present
I try to take each day as it happens. Something that took many years to learn, and I still rail against the bad periods.
If I wake up on a high pain day, I let tasks slide, say no to requests (where reasonable), and focus on self-care. Very occasionally, pushing through to enjoy an important event or to teach a class. I’m getting better at not beating myself up when I miss out on events, or cause more pain if I decide to do something.
Focusing on just the day ahead, not planning into the future (who knows how you’ll be at that time), and not pining after the better periods in the past, reduces self-beating.
In the last few months, I’ve found meditation to be a great trainer. When the inevitable future worries or past longings bog me down, I take a few minutes to sit, breathe and focus on my body, as it is right now. Although I’m not good at it, I let those thoughts float away like clouds in the sky, or ripples on water.
When you focus on a good day, it’s even more enjoyable.
Enjoy a little something
I have a bunch of low-energy things I enjoy. Reading fiction, listening to music, drinking a cup of good quality tea or coffee, eating a delicious truffle chocolate, gaming with feet up in bed or on the couch.
Some other enjoyable little things are actually therapeutic: soaking my hands or feet in hot salty water; steaming my head with eucalyptus or lavender oil; relaxing, eyes closed, with a heat pack on my neck or back; taking a long, hot shower.
I used to have some more crafty things like drawing, stitching, baking or preserving, but sadly I’m having trouble with one of my wrists.
Having at least one good thing to look back on at the end of a day makes the bad days seem less awful, and the good days better!
Go mindfully through the day
Being mindful of yourself, what you are doing and your surroundings, helps to ground you in the present. Just don’t start beating yourself up for the things you find difficult!
I’ve always an absent-minded mega-kutz, injuring myself on all sorts of things. Jamming finger joints when trying to open doors too quickly, dislocating toes while walking on carpet (!), falling over on uneven ground, breaking toes by misjudging corners, bruising myself left, right and center. And I cursed myself every time I was clumsy.
Moving mindfully has reduced ankle and knee pain as I pay attention to how and where I step. Burning myself less often on hot things from the oven or stove. Avoiding sharp corners. Lifting things carefully.
Of course, it’s difficult, especially with a new symptom/injury. The number of times I’ve recently picked up a bottle or the kettle, or tried to open a jar, and made my poor wrist scream for mercy, shows I need to work on this. But I’m not berating myself for being forgetful as much as I once did. Or, at least, I’m trying not to!
Be grateful for something
It’s awfully difficult to be grateful for anything when you are hiding in a dark room, head pounding, stomach churning, fighting another dreadful migraine.
On those days, I can only find the smallest things – comfy flannelette sheets, good loose tea, purring cats, heat packs, lavender hand cream, even just the darkened and quiet room.
Ending or even starting the day being grateful for a few things, helps remind myself to focus on the present, enjoy the little things, and be mindful in how I move.
Bring present, mindful, grateful and finding small things to enjoy, on good days and bad have helped me better accept my chronic conditions, on most days.
What things do you do to reduce the burden of chronic illness?